Another Wine Escapade – “Some Old World vs. New”
Our wine and dinner group known as Jim’s Disciples met recently at a BYOB neighborhood Italian-American restaurant. It wasn’t my neighborhood, as there is nothing close by to the woods where we reside, but the sort of place a neighborhood would be proud to call its own, a gem of a place, tucked away on a darkened side street. The organizer for this evening’s entertainment thought we might scrutinize old world versus new, of whatever grape varieties we felt like comparing. And, to make it interesting, each pair of wines brought forth would be bagged so that their origins were not apparent, and would only be unveiled after we had each voted as to whether it was “old” or “new” world. We also added a twist to the game by limiting “new world” to South America. What’s not to like about trying new wines, and attempting to discern their origins?
The only white wines of the evening provided the opening gambit. Side by side tastings allowed for a direct comparison, with and without food, and over the short period of time while enjoying appetizers. Being partial to warm duck salad, I once again partook of my favorite. The first white wine, we’ll call it “A”, was steely, acidic, austere but definitely not unpleasant. Just the opposite. It was enjoyable and of the two white wines, preferred by about half the complement of Disciples. Wine “B” began with a hint of wood, with good overall balance to acidity and tannins. It was the more complex of the two wines, which I attributed to the, presumably, oak barrels it must have seen during aging. As the wine warmed up a bit in the glass, the oakiness became a bit more prevalent. I liked both wines, but leaned toward “A” of the two. The table was mixed, as I said, as to which wine was preferred. Upon unveiling, those of us who had guessed “A” was from France were rewarded to find that indeed, “A” was a 2004 Vaillons Chablis (~$23) Premier Cru from the Chablis region of France. Wine “B” was a 2005 Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Chardonnay from the Atalayas Vineyard in Chile ($16-19).
The first red, we’ll call it wine “C”, was rich, tannic, flavorful with a taste of plums, and had a pleasant nose, but just didn’t quite come together. Overall, it was what I would describe as a mouth-filling wine, but not necessarily on your “to buy” list. The second red wine of this pair, wine “D”, was a bit more tannic and thinner than “C”. Around the table one heard words like “rough” and “puckering” in the group’s attempt to describe their taste sensations. I thought wine “D” might be going through what’s described as a “dumb phase”, since despite swirling and warming the glass between my hands, the wine remained “closed”. So which is the European wine and which the South American? I guessed wine “D” was old world, and it was, in fact, a 2000 Ch. de Sainte Gemme, from the Haut-Medoc region of Bordeaux , France ($20). Where were the touted “well-integrated tannins and long, refreshing finish” it was divulged, upon unveiling, to possess (according to one published review)? Wine “C” was from Chile, a 2003 Barone Philippe de Rothschild, “Escudo Rojo” ($18). It’s a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and a Chilean varietal, carmenere.
We’ve moved well into the main courses. Several at the table were having fish, and while you can drink whatever you like with your fish, I suspect some of these reds might be overpowering based on my bite of Sweetpea’s tuna. For my beef dish, however, these wines were just the right thing. Red wine “E” was acidic and tannic with what I thought was a cherry aroma, but someone else thought was pear. (If its not evident to the reader yet, just because we like wine doesn’t mean the Disciples have “educated” noses or taste buds. But it doesn’t stop us from trying to describe what we’re tasting and smelling). My notes on this wine read “not so great”. Wine “F” was preferred, of the two wines in this pairing, by most in attendance. It too was tannic, with a walnut taste, but also had some fruit and even peppery essence. It was certainly more complex than wine “E”, and I felt it really did better after some time in the glass. I guessed “E” was old world, and it was a 2001 Ch. Guittot Felloneau Haut-Medoc Gran Vin de Bordeaux ($19), a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot common to the area. Wine “F” was from Argentina; a blend of the same two grape varieties plus malbec from Flichman’s Paisaje de Tupungato, 2002 ($16).
But the best wines of the evening, based on informal vote gathering, were yet to come. We brought, as did one other couple who had shared our Lot Valley hiking experience this past Spring, a malbec from that region to pair with South American versions of the same grape. Wine “G” was rich in color and its tannins were well blended with fruit and a hint of pepper and minerals. Words around the table echoed “smooth”, “no rough edges”, “good balance”, and “forward, hits me gently”. I think folks liked this one. Wine “H” was even darker in color than “G”. But its acidity predominated the tannins and fruit that were present. It also had a bit more barnyard smell and overall was just rougher than its paired contestant. Wine “G”, which most guessed correctly as the New World entry, was a 2002 Norton Malbec from the Mendoza region of Argentina ($21). Wine “H” was a Ch. Haut-Montplaisir “Prestige” Malbec from the Cahors area of France ($19). This wine was mentioned in a previous column (“Valle du Lot”) as being worthwhile, but next to the Norton Malbec, it did not fare nearly as well as when tasted alone. I think I’ll have to try another Norton Malbec on the basis of this tasting.
The final pair. Wine “I” was, like many this evening, peppery, well balanced or integrated with respect to tannins, fruit and acidity, and with maybe a touch of minerality. It just was more pleasurable to drink compared to the previous wines. Only Wine “G” had evoked the group’s pleasure meter as well as wine “I”. Some declared it, even after tasting the next wine, to be their favorite of the tasting dinner. I liked it too, even more so than when I tasted a previous bottle in preparation for selecting which South American wine to bring to the dinner. It was a 2003 Susana Balbo Malbec (with 7% cabernet sauvignon), also from the Mendoza region of Argentina ($22). The final wine, wine “J”, was wonderfully smooth with loads of dark fruit and tannins in harmony, and a touch of spice. Who can decide? In my mind, or mouth, these two wines, plus the Norton Malbec, were the three best of the 10 wines we had this evening. And wine “J”? It was a 2003 Ch. du Cedre “Le Prestige” from the Cahors region ($24), another of the wines mentioned as outstanding in the previous “Valle du Lot” column.
Thanks, Ross. I haven’t tried Rochioli’s pinot noir for some time, perhaps not since visiting their vineyard in Sonoma. I recall I liked it, but not as much as, at the time, Mueller’s or Cuvaison. Any particular vintage you’d recommend we try?